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Tyler Johnson is congratulated by coach Joe Pavlicheck after scoring a touchdown in a game last week in Prescott. Tyler, a seventh-grader at Prescott Middle School, has Fragile X syndrome, a disease that means he has cognitive disabilities. Photo by Mark Waters

Touchdown scored by Prescott middle schooler counted for more than just six points

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The best night of Tyler Johnson's 13-year-old life came last week. There's no question about it.

His Prescott Middle School football team lost its game to River Falls, but for Tyler the result of the game mattered little. He scored a touchdown, and a memorable one at that.

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Over the summer, Tyler approached his mother, Angie, about wanting to play football. She didn't know how to take his request at first - he has Fragile X syndrome, a genetic disorder that has led to learning disabilities and cognitive disabilities.

Angie Johnson, a 1999 graduate of Hastings High School, is no stranger to football. She wasn't certain there would be a spot for him on an organized team, so she approached Prescott coaches Scott Hamilton and Joe Pavlichek.

"Tyler is a big football fan," Angie Johnson said. "He has been wanting to join sports. This year, he wanted to try out for football, so I talked to the coaches and they accepted him in."

Just like that, Tyler was a part of the team. He has attended practices and games but hadn't seen the field through the first few games, which Angie and Tyler had accepted. They didn't have visions of him turning into the next great Prescott running back.

After last week, though, that may change.

With his team trailing late in the game, one of the Prescott coaches walked over to Tyler and struck up a conversation. Then, with about nine seconds to play, the coach brought Tyler on to the field. They handed the ball off to him on the next play, and Tyler raced toward the end zone. He scored a touchdown, and people cheered like wild.

"The funny thing is, when he started to run, he saw the kids from the other team coming toward him, so he turned around and started running the wrong way," Angie Johnson said. "They turned him around, and he scored a touchdown. It was just awesome."

The Prescott coaches had talked to the coaches of the opposing team from River Falls, and they had agreed to let Tyler score. The boys on the River Falls team were understanding, too, and while they chased after Tyler they knew to let him score.

Angie Johnson, her daughter Alyssa and her parents, Hastings residents Linda and Wyman Johnson, were in the stands but had no idea Tyler was going to get to come in to the game, let alone score a touchdown. Tyler had no idea, either. He had been waiting on the bench with his helmet and pads on, ready to go in on a moment's notice. When the call came in for him to take the field, he hopped right up.

"He was just so anxious throughout the game," Angie Johnson said. "He kept wanting to go in, and kept wanting to go in. When I saw the coach come over and call him off the bench, I was just in awe. The coach took him over and told him what was going to go on. He got down and ready, and they gave him the ball. It was awesome. Just amazing. I was thrilled they gave him that opportunity."

Johnson said she had her video camera with her, and when Tyler went in to the game she turned it on. She has most of the play on tape, but as he neared the end zone the tape ran out and she missed capturing the celebration after the score. A link to the video is posted here.

The video shows Tyler getting the ball, running to the left and then turning around as a few River Falls players chase after him.

"We always used to joke about how if he'd ever get the ball he'd run the opposite way, and it happened," Johnson said. "It was only for a couple seconds. Right away, the coach was behind him to turn him around. Once he turned around, he just booked it down the field. Everybody ran up to him. The crowd was cheering. It was very cool.

"He was all smiles. He just kept smiling."

That night, Tyler got on the phone with his relatives across the Hastings area and basked in his own glory.

"I did a touchdown," he told them all.

Gratitude

Johnson has been thrilled with the care her son has received both at school and on the gridiron. His teammates have always been accepting, as have the coaches.

"The coaches are so good with him," she said. "I can't even explain how awesome they are. They allow him to participate just like any other person. All the kids have been accepting, too. They're so nice and kind to him."

This fall, Johnson hopes Tyler can get a spot on the basketball team at Prescott Middle School, too.

"He just wants to be involved," she said. "He wants to do what the other kids are doing. He loves sports. All he wants is just to be in that uniform like the other kids."

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Chad Richardson
Chad Richardson is the publisher and editor at the Hastings Star Gazette. He was the general manager of the Farmington Independent and Rosemount Town Pages from 2000 to 2007. He previously worked at the Star Gazette from 1996 to 2000 as a photographer and reporter. He also worked as a photographer and writer at the Pope County Tribune in Glenwood.
(651) 319-4500
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